My sister and I went to see Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’ last week. We tottered up a bunch of narrow steps to our seats. The Comedy Theatre in Melbourne is beautiful but as it was built in the late 1920s, it had no lifts. My heart was tippy-tapping, but not from exertion. For me it was anticipation built up over a period of forty years.
Both Queen Elizabeth II and the play were celebrating a diamond jubilee (60 years), her Majesty on the throne and The Mousetrap at London’s West end. Forty years ago I stumbled across something called a ‘French’s Acting Edition’ of The Mousetrap at a fete (jumble sale) or a second-hand bookshop. I was always browsing in those care free days. I feel lucky to have found a copy. (That’s why I prefer hard copy books to electronic reading). I read the play and being an Agatha Christie fan, I loved it. It had all the twists and turns and revelations that you can hope for in an Agatha Christie mystery.
I had somehow never got around seeing the play in its natural setting at London’s West End, so when I heard that it had come to Australia for a limited tour I took a mortgage out and hocked my first born to buy a ticket. Well, no, I didn’t. But I did forego supper afterwards.
The best seats were snapped up quickly so ours ended up being upstairs, but I was just happy to be there and came prepared with opera glasses. I looked around me and two thirds of the audience were my age. It could have been the fact that people are used to paying similar prices for musicals and this wasn’t a musical, or perhaps it was just a trip down memory lane for those of us who’d grown up on a diet of Agatha Christie stories.
The Mousetrap began its life as a radio play called Three Blind Mice, then mutated into a short story based on the radio play, then, of course it became this long running stage play. My clever sister worked out that the why of the title, even before I looked it up on Wikipedia. She thought that The Mousetrap might have something to do with Hamlet’s description of the play within the play and she was right. Here is what Wikipedia says:
“The Mousetrap” is Hamlet’s answer to Claudius’s inquiry about the name of the play whose prologue and first scene the court has just observed (III, ii). The play is actually The Murder of Gonzago, but Hamlet answers metaphorically, since “the play’s the thing” in which he intends to “catch the conscience of the king.”
Here’s a quick summary of the story. Mollie and Giles are a young married couple who have remade a property that Mollie inherited from her aunt and turned it into a guest house. The audience is immediately made aware that due to a severe snowstorm the guest house and its guests will be snowed in and the news on the radio announces that a murderer is on the loose. Although the owners are too busy getting things organised to take notice of this announcement, this is where the suspense begins for the audience. It should have moved on from there but I don’t feel that it did. It had all the ingredients. The guests are strange or wrought up or unpleasant and equally strange is the leaping, hand rubbing, facetious Mr Paravicini, who arrives, announcing that his car has overturned in a snowdrift. Then a policeman arrives at the snowbound inn on skis to say that it’s possible the murderer is heading in the direction of the guest house. Soon after that the telephone lines go dead. The ingredients are all there, but the expected suspense is missing.
It’s not the set or the costumes (which were spot on early 1950s) that’s out of kilter. And it wasn’t the actors. I didn’t recognise any of them (I see a lot of theatre) but they were good. It could have been that they were not directed well. Or perhaps it was the build-up of anticipation that let me down. Maybe it’s that I had read the play beforehand and knowing the ending spoiled the suspense. I think that the printed word allows the inner mind to interpret actions and situations in ways that outer distractions and other people’s interpretations do not.
When it comes to reviews I prefer to read them after the event. It’s all subjective and I don’t see why somebody else’s opinion should influence mine. So, hopefully you’re doing the same. If not, I’m not going to spoil the ending for you, except to say that if you’ve read Agatha Christie’s novels it’s possible that you will pick the ending or at least not be too surprised by it. If you aren’t a fan, then the ending will definitely come out of left field.
If any of you have seen tis play in London, I’d like to hear from you and compare notes.